Almost half of the firearm-related deaths in police custody between 1990 and 1997 were self-inflicted suicides. In 33 cases over these years a person, when confronted by police, shot himself dead. As was shown in a previous Trends and Issues (no. 89) police were not dealing with traditional criminals in these cases. More than two-thirds of these victims were depressed, or had some form of psychiatric history. Alcohol or drugs were contributing factors in half of the cases and, in almost half, a domestic altercation had preceded police attendance and the suicide.
Preliminary analysis shows that firearms were readily available, or in 60 per cent of cases the firearm was not a weapon that could be prohibited or restricted under new firearms regulations, though more stringent licensing may limit access. Further work at the Australian Institute of Criminology will test this proposition.